If you're not used to eating Filipino food though, you might find it a little intimidating at first. What's with all the rice? Why is there a spoon and fork instead of a knife and fork? And how do you eat with your hands without risking your health? To answer those questions, here's our simple guide on how to eat Filipino food.
Eat with a spoon and fork.
Like other Southeast Asian countries that don't use chopsticks, Filipinos eat with a spoon and fork. The spoon can be used to scoop up rice, stew and soup, while the fork can be used to spear, cut and pin down a piece of meat being sliced by the spoon. Generally, the fork is held in your left hand, while the spoon is held in your right.
In some cases, however, only the spoon or fork is used. When eating spaghetti, for example, Filipinos use only a fork. When eating halo-halo, Filipinos use a special long-stemmed spoon, which fits perfectly inside the tall glasses where halo-halo is served. You may also use a knife if the food is too tough to be cut by the spoon or fork alone.
If there's no spoon and/or fork, eat with your hands.
Many Filipino foods are supposed to be eaten with your bare hands. You'll notice this in traditional Philippine restaurants, where sets of meals are laid out on a banana leaf. That's why you need to wash your hands thoroughly before partaking in any Filipino meal.
Also, as unbelievable as it sounds, there's an etiquette to eating with your hands. For example, you should never put food in your mouth using your left hand, because it's the "unclean" hand in Filipino culture. Instead, the left hand should be kept at your side (not on the table!), and if you want to pass food to someone else, use your right hand.
There's an art to eating with your hands too. Grab a fingerful of rice, gently roll the rice between your fingers, dip it into the sauce, dip it into the dish of your choice, and swallow the mixture whole. Avoid licking your fingers or putting them in your mouth. If you feel like washing off the sticky rice and whatever-else-gets-on-your-fingers, you may do so at the washroom provided.
Always eat with rice.
If there's one side dish Filipinos can't do without, it's rice. The most commonly eaten variety in the Philippines is white rice, which goes with virtually every dish on the menu that isn't balut. In fact, a lot of Filipino desserts have rice in them, such as suman, kutchinta, suman, puto, tikoy, biko and even halo-halo!
Rice isn't just a source of carbohydrates, though. Since most Filipino dishes are oil-, sauce- or stew-based, rice balances out the flavors that come with such dishes. Also, if you're short on cash but need something to fill you up ASAP, rice can be a temporary substitute for a full meal.
"Tip" the waiter in restaurants.
Unless the receipt indicates that "service charge" or "SC" is already included in the final amount, it's good manners to pay at least 10 to 15 percent higher than the total amount billed. Luckily, most establishments also accept credit cards, so if you have one of those, don't hesitate to use it.
Drink alcohol if you can (but it's also okay if you don't!).
Filipinos have an informal meal called pulutan, which is usually eaten around dinnertime. The pulutan is often paired with beer, which complements the strong flavors that come with most Filipino dishes.
If you're a teetotaler, however, or if you just don't want to drink alcohol for any reason, no worries: It's okay to turn down alcoholic beverages, and ask for fruit juices and water instead.
Follow the prevailing social hierarchy.
In traditional Filipino homes, where rectangular dining tables are the norm, people still follow rules that date back to the Spanish era. The most important person in the family sits at the head of the table, the honored guest by his/her side, and everyone else along the long sides of the table. Obviously, homes that use round tables won't have these kinds of rules.
What's nice about Filipino table etiquette is that it's not as stringent as in other countries. As long as you're having a good time, and you're not causing trouble for anyone else at the table, you can pretty much eat however you want in the Philippines. But if you're not sure which pulutan to eat first, or who should eat where on the table, all you have to do is ask the Filipino closest to you!